You're either with Pearl, or you're against her; I can't get enough.

It’s been a hell of a summer for horror movies—2022 has gifted us with more than our usual share of satisfying scares. Hits such as NOPE, PREY, ORPHAN: FIRST KILL, THE BLACK PHONE, and most recently BARBARIAN shocked and surprised horror fans throughout the last few blistering months. As wonderful (and different) as each of those films were, however, none of them packed a punch quite as powerful as Ti West’s slick, masterful slasher film, X (I’d place BARBARIAN at a close second). X surprised audiences with not only incredible gore and sex but meaningful gore and sex. He introduced us to a heartfelt cast of horny, relatable pornographers with dreams of stardom. He also introduced us to Pearl, an old, horny woman whose life has passed her by, and who’s not happy about it. In a brilliant surprise, the end credits of X showcased a jaw-dropping trailer for a prequel about the sinister old bitty as a starry-eyed young woman, the farmers’ daughter (IYKYK,) baring her namesake: PEARL (The film had been secretly shot in New Zealand immediately after wrapping on X amid quarantine). To describe PEARL as merely a prequel does it a true disservice. This is a companion piece to X. I dare say it even makes it better.

The two films could not be more different. X, set in the gritty ’70s, takes place at the deteriorated, rusty farm where Pearl grew up. PEARL, set 50+ years earlier, shows the farm before its decline in brilliant, almost obnoxious technicolor. A bright, sun-drenched, gorgeous Texas landscape with a color palate straight out of GONE WITH THE WIND (and a sweeping orchestral score to match) serves as a surprising setup for a slasher film, yet it’s every bit as eye-catching as its star.

Mia Goth (2018’s SUSPERIA remake), returns to the franchise. Having played dual roles as the young Maxine and the old Pearl in X, she now plays the young Pearl in PEARL. Rarely is an actor given such a unique opportunity to show such a broad range of talent, and Goth makes the most of every second given on screen. She seamlessly moves from a doe-eyed, Judy Garland-esque ingénue to an over-eager seductress to a pitiful mess delivering a climactic, bizarrely heart-wrenching, single-shot monologue that lasts… eight minutes? I stopped breathing and lost track of time watching her. This, her first real turn leading a film, should not go unnoticed come award season. But we all know it will because award ceremonies don’t take horror seriously. I’ll never get over Toni Collette being snubbed for HEREDITARY. Goth is all at once lovable, bizarre, breathtaking, terrifying, and impossible to look away from.

The film is full of memorable performances. David Corenswet plays a local “bohemian” with such flawless charm and confidence it’s impossible for anyone not to fall in love with him. Newcomer Emma Jenkins-Purro plays PEARL’s sister-in-law with such sincere, earnest sweetness you’d think she’s in a completely different movie altogether. That’s one of the best things about PEARL… no one is acting like they’re in a horror movie… until they suddenly realize they are. Tandi Wright, as Pearl’s disappointed German immigrant mother, must not go unmentioned. She delivers a powerful monologue with such biting disdain and force she surpasses the fury of the intense thunderstorm taking place outside.

The film is a sick mix of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE, THE WIZARD OF OZ, and PSYCHO. And it works. The screenplay, written by West and Goth, was greenlit by A24 before X had even finished shooting. It could not be more different from its predecessor and yet is truly the most perfect build-up to it. While it isn’t particularly suspenseful, especially when compared to X, it doesn’t have to be. PEARL is less about descending into madness as it is settling into madness (in more ways than one).

And, as with X, there’s a post-credits moment that’s definitely worth sticking around for!

PEARL is currently available to watch in movie theaters.

Ricky J Duarte

[He/him/his] Ricky is an actor, singer, and writer in New York City. Passions include: theme parks, Disney villains, and watching horror movies with his cat. He's also the host of the RICK OR TREAT HORRORCAST podcast.

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